Metropole Magazine

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14 Mar Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Since ‘99

Nigeria 20 years ago seems like a foreign country visited in childhood and now remembered in fragments. A place ruled by the military, in which colonels who governed states sunk in state capitals and proudly commissioned hand-pumped boreholes that could barely serve a household, let alone a community.

And the renovation of primary schools with assistance from the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF) was primetime news. There was no obligation to perform as they had made no promises.

At the time, or place, children and adults depended on NTA for entertainment: Tales by Moonlight, Fortunes, Indian films before Bollywood became popular, and Maria de los Angeles, a predecessor of telenovelas. NTA was staple television: whatever they showed was good. There were no alternatives.

There was the one naira or fifty kobo coin - a now extinct currency - and there were items it could purchase.

There was peace, if it only means the absence of Boko Haram and politicking. There weren’t so many distractions. The national preoccupation was poverty; endemic, enduring poverty.

Then the Head of State died and the news caused many to celebrate privately, in the streets, and in bars. While not getting into the core of their dispute, I can relate with some parts of Ayo Sogunro’s reply to Sadiq Abacha’s letter to Wole Soyinka in defence of his father. “I remember how the news of your father’s death drove me—and my colleagues at school—to a wild excitement, and we burst into the street in delirious celebration,” Sogunro wrote. “Nobody prompted us.”

Like him, nobody prompted me and my friends at the playground to rejoice when news of the death of General Sani Abacha reached us. However, fear of the SSS prompted the adults we shared the information with to shush us.

When the news was later confirmed by NTA, the feeling that night as I remember it was the sort of mixture of excitement and anxiety experienced on the eve of a journey to a distant place.

And then came democracy in 1999, bringing with it rapid changes, most notably, the disappearance of the military from our television screens.

Whereas national wealth was previously distributed among the military elite, democracy provided a better formula whereby every region, ethnic group and district now had a representative at the nation’s capital. Whoever you are, wherever you are from, you are consoled that a Senator or member of the House of Representative is partaking in the national cake. There is a modicum of satisfaction and a sense of justice in knowing that, if not you, at least your kinsman is at the banquet table, feeding on your behalf and on behalf of your community.

With the military went musicians of the era. The group of artistes that were popular in the noughties have almost all sunk into the sinkhole and seem buried forever in obscurity. The musicians are alive but may as well be dead. It is a wonder that he who was once in the spotlight is able to fade out completely. These artistes have kept away from the studios not because they have lost their voices, I think, but an inertia engendered by the success of new musicians.

For our loss of these artistes we have Wizkid and co, and the internet, and satellite television with reality TV (entertainment without pretentions), we have laptops, cell phones, Brazilian hair, private universities, minimum wage increases, second-hand cars, ATMs, inflation, gay debate...fifteen years since the return to democratic rule, and how far we have come.

Fifteen years is quite some time, and politicians have finally ditched the phrase ‘our nascent democracy’. What was new has worn and become boring, an indication that it is time for change.